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Volvo Sport: The Saint's forefather turns 60

2014-06-03 08:04

SPORTS CAR TEETHING PROBLEMS: The Volvo Sport (P1900) turns 60 in 2014 and though the car did not garner great success it forme the foundation of greater things for Volvo, such as its P1800. Image: Volvo

GOTHENBURG, Sweden - On June 2 1954 a two-seater roadster called the Volvo Sport, the company's first sports car, made its debut but this little Volvo was not destined for greatness.

Only 68 were assembled compared to Volvo's P1800 sports car of which 47 492 units were sold.

The name of the new car was short and sweet - Sport - and it had a short and plump body with a big grille that looked like a turbine. The wheelbase was 20cm shorter than that of the Volvo PV 444 whose mechanicals it otherwise shared.


Under the bonnet there was a 1.4 tuned version of the PV 444 engine, with two carburettors and 52kW. Top speed was rated at 155km/h.

The Volvo Sport was the result of the many reconnaissance trips made to the USA by the company's founder and managing director, Assar Gabrielsson, in the early 1950s. In his quest to learn as much as possible about the market before launching Volvo on the other side of the Atlantic he met a lot of people in the car world.

One company with which he came into contact was Glasspar in Montecito, California. That company had been building boat hulls and bodies for sports cars since 1951 using a new material called Fiberglass.

Gabrielsson was very interested in the process and wanted to find out how the material worked in Sweden. Furthermore, he had also noted that in the US there was huge interest in small European sports cars - and decided Volvo ought to build one.

Glasspar was in 1953 tasked with designing a body, producing moulds, building a prototype, and training Volvo staff in how to design and manufacture glass-fibre bodies. Back home in Gothenburg, Volvo's engineers were ordered to develop a frame chassis for the body.


The project progressed rapidly. By the start of 1954 Glasspar had delivered the first drivable prototype to Volvo, although it was still far from fully developed. For example, it lacked a canopy top and side windows that could be wound down and the prototypes faced tough criticism during internal testing.

The chassis was too weak, the plastic cracked, the doors were fitted poorly and its three-speed gearbox was far from sporty.

By the time the concept was presented at Torslanda Airport two more prototypes had been completed and Volvo was able to show it was serious about its sports-car project. Those present were told the car would reach showrooms in 1955 and that a first run of 300 cars would be produced - all for export.

After the first showing, Volvo undertook a demonstration tour with the three cars, visiting all Volvo dealers in Sweden.


In the (northern) spring of 1956 the first cars were delivered to customers in countries such as South Africa, Brazil, Morocco and the USA.

However, cars were also delivered to Swedish customers - the original policy that the Volvo Sport would be for export only had been reassessed. By that stage the car had been re-designed in several respects and now had a canopy roof and windows that wound down.

The gearbox? Still three cogs.

Production and sales were slow and during the first year only 44 were built. In 1957 another 23 were assembled but after the new MD, Gunnar Engellau, drove a Volvo Sport for a weekend he decided that production should cease immediately. The car did not live up to Volvo's quality requirements and the company was losing money on every car it sold.

The total number produced was 67 but later research shows that two cars were, probably accidentally, given chassis number 20. That would mean 68 Volvo Sports were built. Surprisingly, many still exist - the whereabouts of around 50 are known.

Despite the failure of the P1900 - as the car was known internally - Volvo still gained useful experience from the project. Soon after production stopped Engellau commissioned a new sports car - made from steel.

Four years later the Volvo P1800 was ready - and a significantly greater success for Volvo.

The Saint was waiting...

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